Level up pedagogy through esports
Kevin Brown
July 23, 2019

A University of California, Irvine research study asserts that up to 91% of all tweens and teens play some form of video game. Welcome to the rock ‘n’ roll of the 21st century: the realm of esports. Defined as competitive video game play, esports has moved beyond the negative stereotype of a solitary, young person playing endless rounds of a game in a dimly-lit room into a smart, developmental, multidisciplinary activity that can earn student-players scholarships at top-named universities. Like its musical predecessor, esports is often met by parents and school administrators with disdain because they don’t grasp the full picture.

Middle and high school educators who are considering adding esports into their academics can take measured steps that will not only help to direct kids’ passion to play but will also produce learning outcomes that resonate with Common Core, ISTE, CTE and NGSS standards. Best of all, educators do not have to be gamers themselves; although they will gain respect from kids if they do “flex” their game of choice awesomeness!

1) Organization is key

Cadence in class is the key to success. For a California middle school piloting an esports elective, every class meeting was broken into five distinct sections. Student-officers were in charge of sections, so the teacher could focus on the lesson at hand while students led healthy gaming exercises, collected deliverables or passed out supplies. Even on “purposeful gaming Fridays,” all class elements had to be completed before the Nintendo Switch gaming console was fired up.

2) Chocolate broccoli: Educational outcomes in esports lessons

When introduced specifically as an elective, an esports class can be designed with relevance to both future career choices and state learning standards, as noted in the following examples of real, documented class content:

  • For ELA or STEM: Write a blog post on how a particular gamer or team has positively influenced the student.
  • For SEL or ISTE: Analyze video game advertising to discover what and how the marketers were selling, and to whom. Flip the argument and have students create an ad that attracts a demographic typically underserved by most game marketers (e.g., create ads that promote games for girls, children of color or students with disabilities).
  • For Common Core ELA or history: Write a paper on the birth of video games and how they, in turn, created or affected rising industries and areas of research.

3) All minds, all kinds: Esports is for everyone

 “All minds, all kinds” was a class tag line created by students to demonstrate how their class would welcome new students. Further, as this class aspired to become an intramural competitive team, they were guided on how to:

  • Create a code of conduct, with desirable qualities -- based on school values -- expected of all classmates which enforced zero tolerance issues, consequences and restorative justice for violations
  • Provide a system for giving every student who wants to participate a chance or method to do so, not just the loudest or highest-scoring students

4) Applied physics: The STEM linkage that kids love about esports

The biggest “aha!” moments come when students realize that all the numbers can affect and improve their personal gameplay. In the pilot class, Super Smash Bros. Ultimate was the singular game played in the nine-week elective; students rushed past the final screens after the matches ended, unconcerned with the columns of stats. As a project, students had to decode the endgame numbers and run probability formulas to increase win rates for certain champions. Another project with math and STEM potential was to have students use geometry and vector plotting to create optimal shot angles in 3D when playing Rocket League, a video game with soccer played by hot rods and monster trucks that includes a lot of aerial hang-time.

From middle school esports hot spots in New Jersey and Wisconsin to high schools sitting in the shadow of major universities with championship esports teams to remote rural communities with kids in home school or online virtual academy programs, there is an appetite for kids to play games. A middle school in Orange, Calif. announced the opening of three sections (90 seats) of a new esports elective; administrators were dazed to see 284 kids apply for the coveted seats. This sends a clear message to administrators, educators and parents. The schools that develop and use innovative, disruptive methods to engage kids where they already are will see increased attendance and in-class participation, not just from the gamers on campus, but from the quiet, interested and yet-to-be challenged kids sitting on the fringe, waiting for their turn to drop in, contribute, improve themselves and identify that they belong in school.

Kevin Brown is a CTE educator, curriculum writer, accomplished linguist and lifelong gamer based in Orange County, Calif. A passionate advocate for reaching all kids through the inclusion of esports into mainstream curricula, Kevin was initially attracted to the concept of esports as a vehicle for education as part of a multidisciplinary exercise to create state-approved ELA + CTE + esports courses for California high schools. Kevin is currently working with a pioneering group of teachers to create a nine- to 18-week esports elective for middle schools that will be available for free on www.esportsfed.org in late August 2019.

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